Clemson heads into regional play this year in somewhat unfamiliar territory. Unlike Monte Lee’s first 3 seasons in which the Tigers have been a host team, this team hits the road for postseason play. A second half swoon that saw this team go more than a month without an ACC series win, came pretty close to keeping the team out altogether.
The Tigers will head to Oxford, home of the Ole Miss Rebels and the #12 overall seed. The Rebels play their home games at Swayze Field, a big ballpark that seats over 11K, so it should be quite the environment.
Joining them will be Illinois and Jacksonville State. As the host, Ole Miss will be the 1 seed, Illinois the 2 seed, Clemson the 3 seed, and Jacksonville State the 4 seed.
Clemson and Illinois will face off at 4 pm Friday afternoon to kick things off, with Ole Miss and Jacksonville State squaring off Friday night at 7 pm. Clemson will turn to junior LHP Jacob Hennessy to start against the Illini. Hennessy has seen most of his work come in relief this year and will be making just his 6th start on the season. In 19 total appearances, he is 4-1 with an ERA of 3.72, and a WHIP of 1.21.
Illinois will counter with junior Ty Weber. In 13 starts and 2 relief appearances, Weber is 4-2 with a 2.97 ERA, and a 1.20 WHIP. He pitches to contact, letting his defense make plays behind him. He has just 45 K’s in 75.2 IP and opponents are hitting .212 against him.
Lets take a look at some numbers from each team in this regional.
1. Ole Miss
The Rebels come in at 37-25 overall, 16-14 in the SEC, and are #22 in RPI. Led by head coach Mike Bianco (19th season), the Rebels will be making their 23rd regional appearance and looking to get to Omaha for the first time since 2014. Having played the 10th toughest schedule, they are 22-9 at home, but just 12-15 against Top 25 RPI teams. They are coming off of a "6 games in 6 days" stretch that included a run to the SEC Championship Game, which they dropped to Vanderbilt 11-10 after surrendering a ninth inning lead.
Ole Miss is hitting .277 as a team, have hit 59 long balls, and stolen 91 bases in 111 attempts. Some guys to keep an eye on are Ryan Olenek (.346 BA, 30 RBI, 10-15 SB), Grae Kessinger (.336 BA, 5 HR, 46 RBI, 16-19 SB), and Cole Zabowski (.305 BA, 10 HR, 45 RBI).
Their team ERA is 4.34 and the staffs overall WHIP is 1.35. They have a strong starting rotation, consisting of Will Ethridge (6-6, 2.94 ERA, 1.22 WHIP), Doug Nikhazy (7-3, 3.17 ERA, 1.22 WHIP), and Gunnar Hoglund (2-2, 4.90 ERA, 1.33 WHIP).
The Fighting Illini come in at 36-19 overall, 15-9 in the B1G, and are #28 in RPI. This is the 12th time Illinois has appeared in a regional. Dan Hartleb is the head coach and has had some success since taking over in 2006, with two conference titles and four trips to the NCAA tournament. None of the players on this team have yet to play in a regional. Despite going 0-2 in the B1G tournament, this team went 15-11 on the road this season, and 11-6 against top 50 RPI teams, while playing the 55th toughest schedule.
Despite batting .279 overall, their lineup won’t scare anyone. Just one player has hit double digits in home runs and only 3 guys from the everyday lineup are hitting over .300.
Zac Taylor leads the way, hitting .331 with 10 HR, 28 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 23 attempts. Grant Van Scoy (.347 BA) and Michael Massey (.325 BA, 5 HR, 27 RBI) are the other two guys to keep an eye on.
Scary lineup or not, this teams strength is its pitching. They have 3 legit weekend starters, with Andy Fisher (7-1, 2.57 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) leading the way. Then there’s Ty Weber, who the Tigers will face Friday, and Cyrillo Watson (5-2, 3.65 ERA, 1.51 WHIP).
The Tigers come in at 34-24, 15-15 in the ACC, and are #38 in RPI. This is Clemson’s 44th appearance in the regionals, and 32nd in the past 33 years. The Tigers are just one of five schools who have made it to 11 consecutive regionals. Florida, FSU, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt are the other four.
They are 9-7 against Top 25 RPI teams, and 6-3 against Top 10 RPI teams. 16 of the teams 24 losses have come by 2 runs or less, or either in extra innings, including eight 1 run losses. 25 different Tigers have started at least one game this year.
As a team, the Tigers are hitting .266 and have hit 79 long balls. They have a team SLG% of .444, have stolen 91 bases in 116 attempts, and have a .971 fielding percentage.
4. Jacksonville State
The Gamecocks come in on a 12 game winning streak. They are 37-21 overall, 22-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference, and are #89 in RPI, having played a schedule ranked 159th. They were just 2-4 vs Top 50 RPI teams and have 6 losses to teams with an RPI worse than 200.
They were 14-10 on the road this season, and 3-0 in neutral site games. This is just the 5th regional appearance in program history but their third in the last nine years under head coach Jim Case, now in his 18th season.
The team bats .271, scores over 6 runs a game, and has hit 74 homeruns. Nic Gaddis leads the way at the plate, hitting .333 with 13 HR and 42 RBI, and an OBP of .449. Alex Webb (.308 BA, 9 HR, 56 RBI) and Cole Frederick (.292, 6 HR, 37 RBI) are a couple of other guys to watch.
The pitching staff has an overall ERA of 4.30, with starting pitcher Garrett Farmer leading the way. Farmer has been a workhorse, logging over 100 innings and is 5-1 with an ERA of 2.24 and a WHIP of 0.93. Dylan Hathcock is their number two guy, with a record of 3-0, an ERA of 4.01, and a WHIP of 1.46.
This was a very good draw for the Tigers. This is a very winnable regional, if they can get some pitching. Starting pitching struggled down the stretch, putting a big strain on the bullpen.
The biggest issue seems to have been the young arms just getting fatigued. The Tigers two most reliable starters have been Mat Clark and Davis Sharpe.
Clark was fantastic in his last outing vs Louisville, looking to have plenty left in the tank after having two of the final four weekends of the season off.
Sharpe on the other hand has looked a little more gassed each time out of late. After not having pitched in the ACC Tournament, he'll have had two full weeks off, his first break of the season. If the rest has helped Sharpe get refreshed, and even close to early season form, he and Clark could possibly form a 1-2 punch that would be hard to beat.
First things first however, and this team needs a quality start from Jacob Hennessey Friday vs Illinois. Getting by the Illini is a must. Going through the losers bracket puts that much more strain on this pitching staff, and that's the last thing those young arms need at this point in the season.